New Mexico gardening is a challenging affair - the high altitude (7300') desert environment was exceedingly difficult, with its short growing season, erratic spring winds, and remarkable range of temperatures. These conditions required a great deal of innovation, planning, knowledge, faith, hope, and persistence, to create a sucessful garden.
Our perennial gardens did well in their sandy clay-based soil which helped hold water, and with a good layer of mulch made from our own compost, everything grew. Culinary herbs, hardy succulents, sedums, and rhubarb grew among native wildflowers mixed in with the annual and perennial flowers for bouquets. Rock gardens were interspersed with artifacts, metal objects, trinkets, objects d'art.
We began the gardening season by sifting our compost and adding it to our growing beds. Then we planted organic seeds we saved from plants that had become acclimated to the area, non-GMO heritage seeds, and certified organic seeds.
Lettuce, spinach, chard, other tender salad greens and kale were grown inside a GreenzBox, a self-contained raised bed growing box we designed specifically for the southwest. It was covered with shade cloth so it would conserve water, nutrients, and protect tender grees from the harmful UV rays. It was not unuaual for spinach grow for an entire season without bolting. Raised vegetable beds ware planted with Chardonnay carrots, Detroit and Cylindra beets, Broccoli and Cauliflower, Evergreen bunching onions, yellow onions, and asparagus.
We started organic plants for sale in the spring, and seedlings for ourselves. We mulched our gardens with four inches of compost to conserve water and keep the roots cool for optimum growth. We tried to provide ideal conditions for each plant and we hoped for, and usually had, a successful harvest.
One of the gardening beds was for a special variety of Zuni winter squash (a local heirloom organic seed from the Zuni Pueblo near the Arizona/New Mexico Border) that has a mottled leaf which is conditioned by a single dominate gene. Other varieties of winter and summer squash grew in different beds, their long vines trailing down a slope or trellised up the coyote fence. Tomatoes (one organic variety of seed we have saved and planted for 30 years) grew in containers on the front porch, which faced east, protecting them from the intense mid-day sun, and keeping temperatures a bit higher at night. In another raised bed, organic cucumbers and butternut squash were trellised on hog wire, keeping them off the ground. Behind them, a coyote fence shaded and supported scarlet runner beans, edible pod peas, and shelling peas.
Flat rocks were stacked high make a platform for bird feeders and a bird bath. Cliff Chipmunks sat in the feeders shelling sunflower seeds, stuffing their little cheeks. Spaces between the rocks allowed the chipmunks to crawl in and out, play, and hide. We noticed clumps of sunflowers germinating where a chipmunk buried them, and when they sprout they ate them too.
Some of the birds we fed were House finches, Nuthatches, Pine Siskins, Sparrows, Western Bluebirds, Mountain Bluebirds, Lesser Goldfinches, Mourning Doves, Turtle Doves, Flickers, Flycatchers, Juncos, Scrub Jays, Pinon Jays, Goldfinches, Northern Mockingbirds (our favorite), Meadowlarks, Lazuli Buntings, Grosbeaks, and Rufus-sided Towhees, Lewis Woodpeckers, Cowbirds, and an occasional hawk.
Everything we planted was organic and designed to benefit all the wildlife: birds, frogs, toads, butterflies, moths, bees, and other beneficial insects. In the high desert a sustainable organic garden needs to include a source of drinking water for the beneficial insects that help polinate our fruits and vegetables.
Large goldfish lived in a rock-lined pond with a built-in waterfall. A small pump re-circulated the water and the sound of running water attracted more birds than the seed we feed them because water was so scarce in the high desert. We watched them drink water from the pond and take baths in the waterfall.
A semi-arid subtropical climate. There is light precipitation, abundant sunshine, and low relative humidity. Humidities range from 60% (mornings) to 30% (afternoons). All of New Mexico receives at least 70% sunshine year-round, and is called the "The Land of Enchantment."
New Mexico is also known as "The Sunshine State."
New Mexico's climate:
Varies considerably. December-March snowfalls range from less than two inches annually in the lower Rio Grande Valley to as much as 300 inches in the mountains of north-central New Mexico. Higher elevations tend to be cooler throughout the year. Be prepared for cold weather in the winter, nights can reach -20. In the early spring and late fall temperatures can vary from 20 degrees at night to 70 decrees during the day. Total precipitation ranges from an annual high of 25.7 inches in Cloudcroft to a low of 8 inches in Las Cruces. Scattered afternoon thunderstorms are common in July and August.
New Mexico's population:
There are only 1.7 million people living in New Mexico, ranking it 36th of the 50 states. A 300-mile corridor through the center of the state, running along the Rio Grande Valley, contains over half of the state's population. Statewide population is growing - net immigration from 1990 to 1995 averaged 16,800 per year - a 10% overall population increase. A population increase of 1.8% between 1994 and 1995 was the 7th highest in the nation.
STATE SONG - "O, Fair New Mexico"
STATE TREE - Pinon
STATE BIRD - Road Runner
STATE ANIMAL - Black Bear
STATE GEM - Turquoise
STATE INSECT - Trantula Hawk Wasp
STATE COOKIE - Biscochito
STATE MOTTO - "It Grows as it Goes"
STATE FLOWER - Yucca
STATE GRASS - Blue Grama
STATE FISH - New Mexico Cutthroat Trout
STATE VEGETABLES - Chile & frijoles (pinto beans)
STATE FOSSIL - Coelophysis dinosaur
STATE SLOGAN - "Everybody is somebody in New Mexico"
STATE QUESTION - "Red or Green?" (chilie)
STATE NICKNAME - "Land of Enchantment"
Wildflowers, Cactus, Grasses, Shrubs, Trees, and Wildlife
Our high altitude desert area exhibited low precipitation, low night temperatures, strong spring winds, high day temperatures, (anywhere from 20 - 80 degrees in the spring months, 50 - 95 during the summer months, and -20 to 60 in the winter months) and sandy alkaline soil. Even under such harsh conditions, spectacular annuals and perennials bloomed. These were a few plants, trees, shrubs, cactus, reptiles, and other wildlife that we saw in our area.
New Mexico Wildflowers
New Mexico Thistle "Desert Thistle" Cirsium neomexicanum (Composite-Asteraceae) is a robust biennial that is covered with prickly foliage and bears dense clusters of showy, pinkish-lilac flowers. Lesser goldfinches love the seed, and others use the downy seeds for nesting material. The Navajo used the plant as a treatment for chills, fever, and as an eye wash.
Scarlet Penstemon P. barbatus ssp. torreyi (Snapdragon-Scrophulariaceae) has pale to deep rose flowers along tall stalks, up to four feet. Leaves are fray-green, prominently toothed, and fused around the stem.
Shortstem Penstemon P. breviculus (Snapdragon-Scrophulariaceae) – 6 to 8 inches high plant with narrow leaves and blue-violet flowers.
Skyrocket “Scarlet Gilia” - Ipomopsis aggregata (Phlox-Polemoniaceae) this tallish plant has trumpet shaped red flowers with dots on the base of its five points.
Trumpet Gilia “Blue Trumpets” - Ipomopsis longiflora (Phlox-Polemoniaceae) spectacular long thin pale blue trumpets up to two inches in length, with five petals spreading at the tips. Grow on a low-branched cluster of thin sparsely leaved stems. The more water they have the longer the trumpets. Flowers were used to make a lather for body sores, and fever.
Annual Buckwheat Eriogonum annuum ( Buckwheat–Polygonaceae) a cluster of small white flowers at the top of a tall stem with white woolly leaves.
Pale Wolfberry Lycium pallidum (Potato-Solanaceae) a low growing shrub like plant with red round fruits. Flowers are greenish white.
Wandbloom Penstemon p. virgatus (Snapdragon-Scrophulariaceae)-Tall stem, narrow leaves that droop down near the flowers, white to pink center petals with red lines.
Purple Mountain Penstemon P. strictus (Snapdragon-Scrophulariaceae) a clumped purple Penstemon.
Sacred Datura Datura wrightii (Nightshade-Solanaceae) is a sprawling, large leaved perennial with large trumpet shaped flowers, white tinged with purple edges, and are pollinated by Hawk moths. All parts of the plant are poisonous, although Native Americans used it for visions (chewed roots), sore throats (brewed seeds), and a poultice of the leaves were used to treat boils.
Yarrow (Achillea lanulosa) white perennial.
Fleabane Daisy “Spreading Fleabane” - Erigeron divergens (Composite-Asteraceae) is a low growing plant that has a flower head about one inch in diameter, clustered at the stem tips, with white petals , narrow rays, and a bright yellow disc in the center. Leaves are narrow, linear, and hairy.
Spectacle Pod “Pepper Grass” Dimorphocarpa wislezeni (Mustard-Brassicaceae) is an annual mustard with a hot pungent flavor. White flowers from clusters around the stem tips and grows to a height of 1 ½ feet, and has multiple branches. The abuadant, round, flat, two-seeded fruits persist on the plant for weeks. The Tohono O’odham ate the seeds and parched, fried, and stored them for winter use. Others ate the whole plant, fresh or dried, and used it to flavor meat.
Dune Primrose “Bird Cage Primrose” (Evening Primrose-Onagraceae) is about 6 inches tall, up to two inches across, with pure white flowers with yellow centers. The prominent, cross shaped stigma is characteristic of the genus. Blooms open in the early morning, and have a sweet smell that attracts Hawk moths that pollinate them. As the plant dries the outer leaves curl inward, forming a cage-like structure that gives rise to its common name.
Wright’s Verbena Glandularia wrightii (Valerian–Valerianaceae) – rose pink to purple flower clumps, 5 tiny petals each, thin branched leaves, fussy pod at the base of the flower head.
Hooker’s Evening Primrose Oenothera elata (Evening Primrose-Onagraceae) is a yellow flower with a wide blossom that is also pollinated by the Hawk moth. When placed in a garden setting and well watered, it grows 4 feet tall and covered with profuse blooms.
Pink Evening Primrose Oenothera coronopifolia (Evening-primrose–Onagraceae) small new flowers are white, turn pink with age. Short serrated leaf clump with leaves up the stem.
Palmate Globemallow Sphaeralcea digatata (Mallow-Malvaceae) is a common perennial with bright orange blossoms and five petaled grey green leaves. Fruits are edible, as well as pollen and seeds. The plant can be boiled and added to gypsum as a glue for calcimine house paint. Pulp of the plant can be mixed with mud to make hard floors. Roots were pounded and mixed with saltwater for a poultice for infection, or plastered over broken or fractured bones, solidifying into a hard cast.
Desert Paintbrush Castilleja applegatei (snapdragon-Scrophulariaceae) is a perennial with multiple stems with sticky bright red orange bracts becoming greenish at the base. The lower leaves are unilobed, and densely white and hairy. Plant resembles a cluster of scarlet-dipped artist’s brushes.
Foothills Paintbrush Castilleja integra (snapdragon-Scrophulariaceae) – Long thin leaves and a bright red flower cluster at the top. Acts as a parasite on Grama grass roots, and thrives best if the two species grow together. It was used in combination with other plants to color deerskins red, and was used with minerals to produce black paint. The blossoms can be eaten, and a bathing solution made from the whole plant would relieve aches and pains.
Red Stemmed Filaree “Crane’s Bill” - Erodium cicutarium (Geranium-Geraniaceae) a low growing highly invasive weed which grows in a rosette has purple pink flowers in small clusters on stalks up to 6 inches. These become needlelike, spiky fruits that look like a Crane’s Bill. As the fruits dry, they curl into corkscrews, when moisture comes, they uncurl and drive the seeds into the soil.
Curlycup Gumweed Grindelia nuda var. aphanactis (composite-Asteraceae) branched stemmed sticky plant with dense, sticky, yellow flower heads with no rays. Pharmaceutical uses include waxes and resins, and a source of acids and alkaloids used for kidney problems, skin abrasions, and sores. Sticky blossoms can be placed on an aching tooth. Flowers can also be used for yellow dye.
Blue Flax Linum Lewisii (Linum-Linaceae) is a perennial with profuse sky blue flowers at the top of a two-foot stem. The shiny petals bloom early in the morning, and drop during the heat of the day. The Navajo used it to treat headaches and heartburn. The fibrous stems were used to make string, cordage, baskets, and mesh for show shoes. The seeds were eaten.
Scorpionweed “Wild Heliotrope” Phacelia intergrifolia (Waterleaf-Hydrophyllaceae) is a common annual with a reddish branching stem. The flowers are pale blue to purple and are borne on coiled spikes that look like a scorpion’s tail. Leaves were boiled and eaten, and powdered root or leaves were mixed with water for sprains, swellings, and rashes.
Wild Potato Solanum jamesii (potato-Solanaceae) has white five petaled flowers and their fruits are about the size of grapes. They can be boiled or baked like potatoes, or eaten raw.
Short-stemmed Lupine Lipinus brevicaulls (Legume-Fabaceae) has clusters of stems with hairy leaves and tall flower stalks in clusters with royal blue flowers.
Indian Parsley cymopterus bulbosus (Parsley-Apiaceae) low growing perennial with soft green leaves in a cluster along the ground and smell like celery. Flowers are a single cluster of four-sided pink pods. Natives used the leaves like parsley.
Yellow Salsify Tragopogon dubius (Composite–Asteracae) has yellow ray flowers on a multi-branched stem that contains a milky juice.
Manyheaded Groundsel Senecio spartioides (Composite–Asteraceae) – this annual has yellow petaled flowers born on clusters of short branched stalks.
Purple Aster Machaeran theya canescens (Composite – Asteraceae) – fall blooming prolific plant with flowers with purple rays and a yellow disk.
Yellow Ragweed Bahia dissecta (Composite–Asteraceae) has branched leaves on short stems with multiple yellow flowers with fringed fat petals.
Gaillardia "Indian Blanket" – G. pulchella (Composite–Asteraceae) is a medium tall plant with yellow or maroon fringed petals.
Annual Sunflower Helianthus annuus (Composite–Asteraceae) a tall flower with yellow rays and a purplish disk. Stalks and leaves are covered with stiff hairs. Flowers are used by Natives today for decoration during corn and harvest dances. Seeds were eaten raw or ground into flour or crushed and cooked as mush.
Great Plains Yucca “Soapweed Yucca” – Yucca Glauca (Avave-Agvaceae) –narrow pointed leaves with multiple white flower stalks. Used for food, and soap.
Day Flower Commelina dianthifolia (Spiderwort-commelinaceae) – found in pinon-juniper woodland, three blue petals on 6 inch stalks, pointed leaves with drooping wider leaf coming from leaf base.
Pine Spiderwort Tradescantia pinetorum (Spiderwort–Commelinaceae) purple three petaled blossoms with purple hairs on stamens, grow on thin stalks with pointed leaves.
Spiderwort Tradescantia occidentalis (Spiderwort–Commelinaceae) clusters of purple flowers with 6 petals, three narrow ones in back of three wider ones, blooming at the top of a thin stem with horizontal pointed leaves below the flower cluster.
Hairy Golden Aster Heterotheca villosa (Composite–Asteraceae) a multi branched flower on a single tall stem. Has yellow flower petals and blooms in late July.
Prairie Cone Flower “Mexican Hat” - Ratibida columnifera (Composite–Asteraceae) a cone shaped flower with yellow or maroon petals at the base of a dense cluster of stems.
Dagger Bindweed Convolvulus arvensis (Goosefoot–Chenopodiaceae) a low growing multi clustered vine, invasive with white to pink morning glory type flowers with a purple tinge along the edge of the blossom.
Wild Candytuft Thiaspi montanum (Mustard-Brassicaceae) Short white flower clumps on a single stem.
Rocky Mountain Bee Plant Cleome serrulata (Hemp-Cannabinaceae) tall multi branched lavender flower clumps on a single stem. Smells terrible, flower pods hang down like pea pods. Greens were eaten as a green vegetable, much like spinach. Older leaves are cooked to a thick paste and sun dried for cakes, which also could be reconstituted to provide black dye (Guaco) for pottery and baskets. The whole plant was dried and ground for flour, mixed with cornmeal, and baked in ashes into “cleome cornbread”.
Horehound Marrubium vulgare (Mint-Lamiaceae) – square stemmed bushy plant with white flowers.
Four-O’clock Mirabilis multiflora (four-O’clock –Nyctaginaceae) reddish purple flowers at the top dark green leaf clusters on a multi branched clump of stems.
Stemless Evening Primrose Oenothera caespitosa ( Evening Primrose–Onacraceae) white low growing cluster of white petals on a single leaf cluster. Blooms early in the morning.
Prairie evening primrose Oenothera albicaulis ( Evening Primrose–Onacraceae) a taller white primrose with thin serrated leaves growing up the stem.
New Mexico Cacti
Cactus family (Cactaceae) includes: Arizona pincushion (Corypantha vivipara), Claret cup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus), Walking Stick Cholla (Opuntia imbricata), Plains Prickly Pear (Opuntia macoriza), New Mexico Prickly Pear (Opuntia phaeacantha) - Flat stout-spined stems arranged in a jointed series of pads which produce edible fig sized fruits called “Tunas” are singed over fire to remove the spines. Pads are also edible with spines removed.
New Mexico Grasses
Grass family (Graminiae) includes: Slender wheat grass (Agropyron trachycaulus), false quack grass (Agropyron pseudorepens), rough bent grass (Agrostis scabra), beggar tick grass (Aristida orcultiana), Arizona threeawn (Aristida arizonica), red threeawn (Aristida longiseta), pine dropseed (Blepharoneuron tricholepic), blue grama (Boutelous gracilis), cheat grass (Broaus tectorus), wolftail (Lycurus phleoides), spile muhly grass (Muhlenbergia wrightii),Indian rice grass (Oryzopsis hymenoides), sand dropseed (Sporabolus cryptandrus), needle and thread (Stipa cosata).
New Mexico Shrubs
Fringed Sagebrush Artemisia frigida (Sunflower–Asteraceae) Perennial which produces seeds. Silvery blue fine leaf clusters up the stem. Yellow flowers with long hairy bracts. Used for sheep feed.
Fourwing Saltbush Atriplex canescens (Goosefoot–Chenopodiaceae) irregularly branched, spiny dioecious (male and female plant parts on separate plants) shrub with thick grey-green canoe shaped leaves. A valuable forage shrub that grows on alkaline land, and tends to grow near ruin sites. The seeds were ground and cooked as cereal, leaves eaten raw or dried for flour. Ashes were used to make lye to soften corn hulls. The pointed hard twig ends were used for arrowheads. Handfulls of male blossoms can be crushed and used for soap, or ant bites.
Wax Currant Ribes inebrians (Saxifrage-Saxifragaceae) Medium size shrub whose fruit may be dried or eaten fresh.
Apache Plume Fallugia paradoxa (rose-Rosaceae) medium size angularly branched shrub that blooms with five petaled roselike blossoms, which are followed by a showy display of feather pink seed plumes, resembling pom-poms. Slender straight branches were used for arrow shafts, and brooms. Petals can be eaten to relieve stomach gas. Roots were used for cord to tie fencing and make armadas.
Pale Wolfberry “Tomatillo” – Lycium pallidum (potato-Solonaceae) a deciduous plant during winter and draught. The flowers are about an inch long, creamy green and funnel shaped. Orange-red berries resemble tomatoes. It is found by ruins, due to its preference for disturbed soil. Seeds were used for food, fresh or dried, and reconstituted leaves were applied to cuts. Bits of the root are planted with corn to keep worms from eating the seeds.
Rabbitbrush “Chamisa” – Chrysothamnus nauseosus (sunflower- Asteraceae) Young twigs and leaves are covered with a fine white wool, giving the plant a grayish-green appearance, with dense clusters of yellow-green flowers. It is one of the earliest to green up in the spring. Yellow dye was made by boiling crushed blooms. Tea from leaves was used for stomach disorders. Galls form on the twigs because insects like to deposit their eggs on them.
New Mexico Trees
Gambel Oak Quereus gambeli (Oak–Fagaceae) has deeply lobed leaves and is found in clusters along rocky hillsides and bears somewhat sweet acorns that can be ground into a meal for mushes or cakes. Boughs were used for making trays, weaving sticks, digging sticks, clubs, tool handles and bows or arrow shafts.
Alligator Juniper Juniperus deppeana (Cypress-Cupressaceae) has thick alligator skin like bark.
One-Seeded Juniper Juniperus monosperma (Cypress-Cupressaceae) has tiny scale-like aromatic leaves and hard, bluish, pea-size berries. It has shreddy bark and a large single seed encased in its berry. Used for food, medicine, construction, and crafts. The berries were a food staple, eaten raw or stewed, and to season meat and stews. Tea from the berries is a diuretic and leaves used in tea are for colds, stomach disorders, constipation and rheumatism, a stimulant and if strong an emetic.
Rocky Mountain Juniper Juniperus scopuiorum (Cypress-Cupressaceae) usually contain two seeds in their berries. Juniper bark is boiled and bathed in to relive itch from spider bites, and powdered bark was used for earache.
Ponderosa Pine Pinus ponderosa (pine-Pinaceae) the largest native evergreen tree in the area, often growing to 125 feet, and can live over 300 years under favorable conditions. Needles are five to ten inches long and in bundles of three, with a tiny papery sheath around the base. The bark sometimes smells like vanilla. The soft inner bark (cambium) can be chewed for nutritional value, or pounded and ground and then leached with water to remove the bitterness. Needles were a cold sore remedy, and a decoction or boiled concentrate of the root was drunk for urinary problems. Beams were used for main roof supports (vigas) for the Anasazi, and the wood was used for cradleboards.
Pinon Pine Pinus edulis (pine-Pinaceae) has a rounded crown and irregular shape. Pinon nuts are formed in the cones and were the most valuable local plant food source for primitive peoples. They have three thousand calories per pound, and its protein, on a per pound basis, is comparable to steak, containing all twenty amino acids. Pueblo families still collect and sell the nuts, and two people can harvest up to 150 pounds per day, equaling 70 pounds shelled. A blue-green turquoise paint was made by boiling the gum. Glue was made from warming the pitch, and used to set stones in jewelry settings, and to sinew bows. The pitch was powdered and sprinkled in wounds as an antiseptic, or mixed with tallow or wax and placed on a wound will draw out infection. It can be chewed as a gum or swallowed for clearing the head during a cold.
Chokecherry Prunus virginiana (rose-Rosaceae) small tree or shrub that has clusters of small white flowers. The wood was used to make bows. Bark was used for cough medicine, and roots ground and sprinkled into wounds. The cherry like fruits were used as food.
New Mexico Locust Robinia neomexicana (bean-Favaceae) the only species of wild Locust, they droop with masses of pink-purple blooms in early June. Branches are tough and elastic, good for bows. The uncooked flowers were added to the native diet.
The University of New Mexico Herbarium - open to students, researchers and the general public who have an interest in the flora of our state. The UNM Herbarium is one of seven Divisions of the Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB).
Native Plant Society of New Mexico - a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the conservation of the native flora of New Mexico and encourages the use of suitable native plants in landscaping as a water conservation measure, for the improvement of wildlife habitat and because native plants are integral to the environment of the Southwest.
New Mexico Rare Plants - lists and exellent photos of NM rare plants and endangered species by county/state. Information about the Southwestern Rare and Endangered Plant Conference.
NEW MEXICO WILDLIFE
Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Coopers Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Ferruginous hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Turkey Vulture, Burrowing Owl, Great Horned Owl, White-throated Swift, Violet-green Swallow, Tree Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, Canyon Wren, House Wren, Bewick's Wren, Rock Wren, Golden Eagle
New Mexico Ornithological Society - the main clearinghouse for information on bird distribution in the state of New Mexico, and sponsors or cooperates in a number of programs designed to gather data on bird distribution. These programs include: breeding bird surveys, migration reports, a nest record program, and seasonal archives. Extensive links for New Mexico birding information.
New Mexico Birding - birding resources, a checklist for New Mexico birds, places to bird, birding organizations of interest, and other NM wildlife.
Butterflies of New Mexico - Information about Swallowtails (Family Papilionidae), Whites and Sulphurs (Family Pieridae), Gossamer-wing Butterflies (Family Lycaenidae), Metalmarks (Family Riodinidae), Brush-footed Butterflies (Family Nymphalidae), and Skippers (Family Hesperiidae).
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science - this Albuquerque Museum promotes science literacy among the residents of and visitors to New Mexico by revealing the region’s natural history treasures. Residents of specific counties in New Mexico receive free admission to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque during specific months!
Watch Deborah Gordon's - How do ants know what to do?
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